Despite a storied history that includes 18 Southern Section titles, Long Beach Poly began the postseason as an underdog.
But the Jackrabbits have adapted nicely to their new role, and now they find themselves in a more familiar position: one win away from a championship.
The Jackrabbits got a fourth-quarter touchdown and a late turnover Friday night to hold off third-seeded Bellflower St. John Bosco, 13-10, in a Pac-5 Division semifinal at fog-shrouded Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach.
Poly will meet fourth-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei in the final next Saturday at Angel Stadium.
"When the playoffs started I knew we were capable of doing it, the kids just had to believe," Poly Coach Raul Lara said.
The unseeded Jackrabbits (10-3) regained the lead, 13-10, with 8 minutes 31 seconds to play on Tai Tiedemann's one-yard quarterback sneak that capped a 14-play, 76-yard march.
After Tiedemann was stopped inches short on fourth down to give St. John Bosco the ball back at the Poly 45-yard line, John Smith intercepted a pass at the 35 and returned it 50 yards to the Braves' 15 with 1:13 left to seal the victory.
"If we'd converted that fourth down at the end it would've been over, but fortunately John made a great play on that interception," Lara said. "We got here by running the ball so I'd be stupid to stop now."
Gerard Wicks rushed for 129 yards in 27 carries, including a six-yard touchdown that gave Poly a 6-0 lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter. Manusamoa Lu'uga had 52 yards rushing for the Jackrabbits, who advanced to the final for the first time since 2008.
The second half was played in a thick fog that rolled in during halftime. Early in the third quarter, Aaron Aragon stripped Wicks of the ball and returned it 16 yards to the Poly 26. Two penalties moved the third-seeded Braves back, and Reid Budrovich salvaged the drive with a 43-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
St. John Bosco (8-5) then took a 10-6 lead on Naijiel Hale's 64-yard interception return with 3:37 left in the third quarter.
The Jackrabbits had broken on top with Wicks' touchdown, which capped an 82-yard, 12-play drive. The extra point try was blocked.
Poly threatened late in the second quarter, but Brett Baldwin intercepted a pass at the 25-yard line of the Braves, who were limited to 36 yards and one first down in the first half and finished with 115 yards.